“in that sleep of death what dreams may come”

You know when you keep chipping at a review and it just never seems to live up to your visions of it? This is one of those, and unfortunately this film deserves much, more more than what I have been able to come up with.

Of all of the festival films I have seen in the last months, it was while experiencing (and yes, I very deliberately avoided the word “watching”) Nina Menkes’s Phantom Love (USA, 2007) at the San Diego Film Festival that I most wished the director was present, preferably sitting next to me, allowing me to ask endless questions. Was that Alain Resnais there in the extended, unflinching opening shot? Because there once again, in luminous black and white, it has been confirmed that whole worlds can be discovered in the sweat droplets that form on a human back during the sexual act… And there, in the sensuous, smoky sleaze of a Koreatown casino, isn’t that the presence of Wong Kar-Wai lingering somewhere just off-frame?

But even though the first reaction while watching Menkes’s film is to connect dots—many claim David Lynch but I’m tempted to proclaim the film the love child of Claire Denis’s image-driven reveries and the jagged, esoteric symbolism of Maya Deren—when the film had concluded I was convinced that I had just been blindsided by an uncompromising, completely unique cinematic talent. Considering that the film floats along on dream logic it’s futile to try and pick out a coherent narrative—I finally just had to give up trying—instead acquiescing to each visually striking sequence which appear one after another after another, all leading deeper and deeper into different states of consciousness. But there’s nothing resembling incoherence anywhere: like Deren in early works like Meshes of the Afternoon and At Land there’s the vague impression that an overriding presence is at work somewhere behind the celluloid curtain, hinting at a story, a scrap of narrative somewhere there, always on the verge of breaking out. Phantom Love brings to mind Shakespeare—“in that sleep of death what dreams may come”—and coming from Menkes, what dreams indeed!

(All images taken from the Phantom Love MySpace page.)


5 thoughts on ““in that sleep of death what dreams may come”

  1. Thank you very much, Jesse, for your comment on PHANTOM LOVE.

    I saw this film twice during the World Film Festival of Bangkok, and I can’t describe its tremendous power. Luckily, the producer of this film was present in the festival. If I don’t remember it wrongly, he said that Menkes’ films are about a woman descending into herself. In the case of PHANTOM LOVE, I think the woman struggles to find a balance in her life, her past/present, her relationship, etc. She may be successful in the end.

    After my friends and I had seen this film, we discussed about it. One question we can’t find the answer is that what kind of animals appeared in the scene when the woman was floating down the river. We see some animals standing far from the river in that scene. Some say that the animals are horses, other say that the animals are her sister’s black dogs. This is not an important question. I’m just curious.

    I also like the use of sound in this film very much, particularly in one early scene in which we see the woman sitting alone in her room, but we hear the high shrieking voice of her mother saying, “Mirror mirror on the wall”. This voice is very haunting, and it appears out of nowhere. It’s like a curse floating in the air.

    Nina Menkes wrote in her website that cinema is sorcery. I like this sentence very much. PHANTOM LOVE is real magic.

  2. Thank you very much, Nina, for answering my question.

    So in this film we see a white horse in TV, two black dogs of her sister, and then we see two black horses. Hmmm. That may be something worth thinking about. :-)

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